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Skills for Youth
Welcome to Skills for Youth. This article on Advocacy Skills contains the following sections:
Description of the Skill
Pregnancy Prevention often focuses on providing teens with information and skills to reduce their own sexual risk taking behavior. Another aspect of teen pregnancy prevention is to help youth become advocates for safe sexual behavior with their peers, families and community.
An advocate is someone who acts, speaks, or writes in support of a person or issue. Advocating for pregnancy prevention can benefit teens in several important ways. First, advocacy allows young people to see they can make a difference in the world. Second, their voice has the potential to change sexual norms and behavior in their school and community. Third advocating for an issue not only helps young people better understand the issue itself, but helps them clarify their personal values and beliefs.
There are a variety of ways teens can advocate for pregnancy prevention ranging from talking to friends about a particular issue to a complex plan for societal change that includes speech-making, letter-writing, fundraising, and more. In this section of Skills for Youth, we're going to focus on advocating with friends to prevent teen pregnancies.
There are five basic steps for effective advocacy:
Step #1: Identify the pregnancy prevention issue that you want to address.
Pregnancy prevention is a large, complex issue. It affects many different parts of society. There are financial implications and social costs. Components of effective pregnancy prevention efforts include abstinence, comprehensive sexuality education, contraception, increased condom use among sexually active teens, access to clinical services, funding, and implementing specific prevention programs like Be Proud, Be Responsible, or Reducing the Risk. (See Evidence-Based Programs for more information on each.) From an advocacy perspective, each of these is a distinct issue.
Students can choose to advocate for one of the above issues, or brainstorm one of their own. It's important to focus in on a particular issue because when you try to advocate for too many different things, efforts get diluted. One good way to help youth decide how they would like to focus their advocacy efforts is to hold an educational forum related to pregnancy prevention and then facilitate a brainstorming session so that they can decide which issues are a priority.
Step #2: Identify the intended audience for your advocacy efforts.
Youth advocating with other youth is a great place to start in regards to pregnancy prevention efforts. There has been research citing the efficacy of peer education efforts, and from observation, it's clear that youth with enthusiasm and energy influence their peers. Therefore, we recommend that teens target peers, parents, and community members for education about pregnancy prevention. These people may not be aware of the issues or the specific situation in the community and can be influenced once they're provided with good information and an understanding of the advocates' goals.
Step #3: Decide on the specific message you want to communicate and how to say it effectively.
A short, well thought out idea about your selected issue is easiest to communicate. It's as simple as saying exactly what you want and why. Messages can be as simple as "Use condoms. They prevent unwanted teen pregnancies." Or "Abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing pregnancy." Or "You gotta communicate. Talking to your partner about sex helps you make good decisions for the future."
Of course, in order to decide what to say and have the arguments to support a point of view, teens may need to do a little research first. For teen pregnancy prevention messages, there are many Websites with information and resources. For example: browse the ReCAPP Links, SIECUS, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy to get started.
In addition, new advocates need to be prepared for challenges. Although the specifics of any given controversy over adolescent pregnancy prevention are unique, the same arguments tend to surface repeatedly. See the SIECUS Community Action Kit for ideas about how to respond to common arguments against comprehensive sexuality education and pregnancy prevention programs.
Step #4: Choose a method to get your message across effectively.
Methods of advocacy can include everything from letter writing campaigns; opinion pieces sent to the school newspaper; tabling; on-line bulletin boards, lists servs, and chat rooms; speaking to groups of youth; call-ins to radio shows; buttons, bumper stickers, etc. with the message inscribed; flyers; monthly school bulletin boards; etc.
When deciding on the method of advocacy, it's important to consider the audience. For instance, if most students in your high school eat lunch off campus, then tabling in the cafeteria would not be the most effective way to get your message across to the largest number of students. Buttons or posters with your message printed on them would be more effective method.
Once young people have decided upon their message and intended audience, a brainstorming session could ensue. Young people know best how to reach their peers; the items above are simply a good way to get the ideas flowing.
Step #5: Plan for the future.
Advocacy is an on-going process. Advocacy is not something that you can do just once and see results. People's opinions change over time. Developing an advocacy plan that will last for a month or more is a great start, especially if you plan a meeting to discuss your efforts at the end of the first month.
At the meeting, advocates can talk about what worked best, what didn't work, and review the highlights of the advocacy campaign in order to spur ideas and suggestions for how the advocacy efforts could continue into the future. They may also want to discuss if they think their advocacy efforts are working.
Although it is difficult to measure the immediate effects of advocacy, students might pay attention to how open people are to their message or if they hear others discussing the issue in a different way after they have done their advocacy.
Demonstration of the Skill
Start by explaining what advocacy is and the benefits of learning to advocate for critical issues that affect each of our lives. (See information about benefits in Description of the Skill section.)
Review the example below to outline one possible pregnancy prevention advocacy campaign.
Step #1: Identify the pregnancy prevention issue you want to address.
Issue: Increase condom use of sexually active teens.
Step #2: Identify the intended audience.
Audience: Students at your school
Step #3: Decide on the specific message you want to communicate and how to say it so that it's most effective.
A simple message could be, "Condoms help prevent teen pregnancy. Use them." There are a variety of ways to say this that could incorporate the slang or culture of your school. For example, youth could use specific slang words for "girl friend," "boy friend" or "date" as well as show images of star students from your class or recent graduates who are advocating for condom use.
Step #4: Choose a method to get your message across effectively.
Methods might include: Putting baskets of condoms in the nurse's office, talking to a planned number of other students about condom usage each week, or putting up posters around the school with a one-line message.
Step #5: Develop long-term plans.
If you've chosen putting up posters, make sure someone agrees to design the posters and then put them up in visible places around the school. If you've chosen talking to other students, make sure there are measurable goals for each advocate and regular meetings to discuss how things are going. Measurable goals could include how many students or community members have been contacted each week, the number of new advocates recruited during the campaign, etc.
Behavioral Practice of the Skill
The best method for learning a new skill or technique is to practice it. For example, if youth will be delivering the message verbally they could practice talking to each other about condom usage in a role play. (See Skills for Youth: Listening Skills for complete role play instructions.) Ask for two student volunteers to come to the front of the classroom. Suggest that one is a new advocate for teen pregnancy prevention and the other is basically unconcerned with the issue. Encourage them to exaggerate their parts in order to make it more fun.
The instructions to the new advocate are simple: Tell the other student that condoms help prevent teen pregnancy and that s/he should use them. Remind the new advocate that no matter how the discussion progresses, this is the only message s/he is trying to get across.
After the role play, ask the role players how they think it went. Was the advocate persuasive? Did s/he get the intended message across effectively? Did the other student "hear" the message? Did the advocate keep it simple? Was s/he prepared for the common arguments against pregnancy prevention efforts?
Then open the question and answer period up to the class at large. From their observations, which of the new advocate's methods were effective and where was there room for improvement?
After the role play and discussion, give students time to come up with their own advocacy plan to prevent unwanted teen pregnancies in their school using the five-step method outlined above.
If youth will be using posters as a way to deliver their message, they could agree on a set of criteria for the posters and then present a sketch of their poster for review by the class and teacher. Some criteria might include: the message is stated clearly, visual images support the message, and messages are acceptable to students, parents and administrators.
If youth are writing a letter or newspaper article they could develop a draft and have the class and teacher review it to make sure the message is clear and acceptable in the community.
To maximize your effectiveness in teaching advocacy skills, we suggest that you:
- Model advocacy skills yourself in persuading the young people to become advocates.
- Encourage the youth to brainstorm by adding ideas of your own.
- Connect the role play activity with real life. Ask students questions during the discussion about what the real barriers are to talking to their peers about teen pregnancy prevention. Record their answers and come back to them as students are developing their own advocacy plan.
- Consider being the students' advisor for their advocacy work. Help strategize when they naturally start to lose momentum, or when obstacles to effective advocacy seem insurmountable.
- Follow up in subsequent classwork with youth. Ask them how their advocacy work is going and leave time for discussion of what's working and what isn't. Provide additional materials as needed to keep students motivated.
- Be sure to check with your school or agency policy about teen advocacy. Be sure to clarify which topics or issues are appropriate to advocate for in your setting or community.